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Akili PHD: The Musician

 

By Joel Middleton | Business Planning Consultant

Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.”

– Robert Browning

Music. What a powerful force in this world. What else has done the following so successfully?

  • Incited riots
  • Inspired repressed people to infect themselves with a deadly virus
  • Sparked more than one revolution
  • Changed how people get down the wedding aisle

Or, the fact that music also gets us to sing, dance, grieve, laugh, and experience a moment either alone or with others?

As a species we’ve had music before structured and written language. It’s in each of us, like E. Coli or that piece of gum you accidentally swallowed a few years ago.

For me, music has always been a big part of my life. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are about hearing my favorite childhood songs for the first time and repetitiously listening to them to get the rhythm and melody of each one. The swing, jazz, rock, and blues songs were always my favorite. I’m fairly certain my parents might still have PTSD from how many times I watched Jungle Book, Brave Little Toaster, and Aristocats simply because of the jazz, blues, and rock leanings in those movies.

My parents have always had their own love of music, too. My dad plays piano and my mom’s a natural-born dancer. We also attended church every Sunday where music was a big part of the service.

With all of that musical exposure, you’d think I would’ve naturally gravitated towards actually learning music early on, but didn’t find my way into it until I was given a guitar and a set of lessons at the local rec center for my 16th birthday. I didn’t know it then, but this was where a lifelong passion for music would begin. The “not knowing” part is important, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

By the time college was on my horizon, I decided that I wanted to study music in school and enrolled as a music performance major at the University of Memphis, focusing on Jazz & Studio Music. I showed up in Memphis full of enthusiasm and excitement. Not even two weeks later, I was ready to throw in the towel and change majors.

I had seriously overestimated my level of ability at the time and was in way over my head. Unlike many of the other students in the music program, I never did anything like band, choir, or theatre in middle or high school. I didn’t know how to read sheet music or how to communicate with other musicians in an effective way. I was, musically speaking, illiterate.

Faced with the decision of quitting the music program, I decided instead to lean into the discomfort and resolved to not quit without putting up a fight.

And man, did I hate the slog.

The daily routine of honest self-criticism and evaluation that I had to make myself face. Fumbling through sight-reading exercises at a pithy 60 beats per minute. Guessing almost every interval except the right one in-ear training exercises. Slowly transcribing solos and tunes from famed jazz records only to read it back and be wrong in large swathes of the song. Not to mention, wrestling with the heedless voice of self-doubt providing the tempting belief that ability and talent are fixed attributes.

I wish I could say it was passion that pushed me through this time. That it was some kind of supreme love for the craft that fit well with the narrative that anyone with enough heart and passion can succeed despite the obstacles before them. But it wasn’t. If anything, halfway through that first semester, I was less passionate about music and guitar than I’d ever been.

But I kept working and as my first semester came to a close, I wasn’t dramatically better than when I’d began but I was starting to show growth. More importantly, the gains I had made in my musical competency over those 15 weeks had ignited a deeper and broader love for music. The kind of love that I would qualify as genuine passion. The kind of passion that you can only develop from struggle, strife, and honesty. Where the slog transforms from drudgery to something you legitimately get excited for.

Fast forward more than a few years and I found myself in new career at Akili where I’m thankful that we have a culture that embraces passion, heart, and desire. Learning new technologies and creating solutions for our clients’ many business needs is ripe for opportunities to struggle, grow, and deepen the passion I have for what we do!